Researching Setting for Fiction Writers

I remember when, in the midst of finishing up my thesis (a labor of love), someone said that doing a creative thesis must be easy because it didn’t require any research.

What? I was floored. I’d done a lot of research for that manuscript, and I continue to. Even writing a fantasy novel requires research. I’ve studied everything from mythology to martial arts to swords to types of knots. But since I write urban fantasy that bridges our world and other worlds, much of my research is setting specific.

We can’t always write novels based in places we’ve lived. I love where I grew up (Western PA) and where I live now (Virginia), but I’m not prepared to base every story in those places. Sometimes, the story dictates a different setting.

When you create your own world, it’s coming from your head (or the creative ether, however you look at it), so you don’t have to worry which highway a character would take to get from point A to point B or how long the drive is. As long as your world is clear and consistent within a story or series, you’re good to go.

But place is a strong and emotional thing. It’s not just a matter of fact-checking. We form deep, emotional connections to places we love and live in, and those seemingly tiny details can draw readers out of a story if they’re not correct.

What kinds of details do we need to worry about when researching a setting?

Geography: It’s not the most exciting stuff, but we need to know the highways and byways. If your characters take Route 101 and there isn’t any such road in that region, people familiar with that place will know. The names of districts, famous landmarks, parks, rivers, etc. are important to people from the area (or who simply love that place), so doing research–even if it’s just a thorough use of Google Maps or Earth–is essential. Looking at pictures can also help you capture the essence of a place. The Shenandoah Valley and the Great Smokies feel and look different, for example.

Flora and fauna: I grew up in the country, so this kind of thing is important to me. I want to hear about the cherry blossoms, the daffodils, the white-tailed deer, the birdsongs, the coyote yelps, or the jack-o-pines. I highly recommend books like “The North American Wildlife Guide.” It’s helpful to know the range of a given species, for example. But we also need to know about things like the seasons (my hometown in PA frequently gets snow in late March and April; where a friend lives in New Mexico, it was 100 degrees last week) or the common types of birds, wildlife, and trees (lots of pines in one place, a plethora of birches in another).

Local flavor: I love to travel, and my favorite part is that every place has its own unique flair. I love tiny beach towns with their hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurants, big cities with everything to offer and their famous locales, college towns where even the license plates have school spirit. The setting should never overwhelm the story. (If we’re in San Francisco, you don’t have to shout it. Ubiquitous references to the Golden Gate Bridge aren’t necessary.) Subtle is necessary, but authenticity in tiny details is key. It’s everything from architecture (the houses in a Western PA mining town are not the same style you’d find in New Hampshire, for example) to roadways (PA is in an unending state of road construction) to food. Keep it authentic, but be sure to avoid cliches and stereotypes. If you’re going to go for colloquialisms, keep them subtle and remember that not everyone from a region uses them, or uses them frequently. (Personal disclaimer: My cousins used to knock my accent, so, though I’m proud of my heritage, I’m a bit sensitive about this subject.)

Making it up: It’s okay to make up a shop, a hotel, or a restaurant. A made-up street or address is useful to avoid using a real address. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a new-age shop or a burger joint to insert into your story, as long as it fits into that town.

The law: Every state (and country, if you’re going global) not only has its own unique flavor, but its own set of laws. Some states (or cities) are stricter about enforcing speed limits. Certain types of weapons are illegal in some states. Pennsylvania doesn’t have a law requiring bikers to wear motorcycle helmets, but many states do. Everything from traffic laws to marriage laws to statutes of limitations varies from one state to another. Legal intricacies mostly come into play if you’re writing suspense or a legal thriller, but knowing the law in your chosen location is important.

Tiny details: There are other details that require research. For example, in MADE OF SHADOWS, the heroine, Zoe, played rugby in college. I had to make sure that the school I chose as her alma mater actually had a women’s rugby team. (Not every school does.) If your character works in or has studied a specialized field, making sure that university actually offers the degree is a must. If your character has a specialization in ceramics, biomedical engineering, or Celtic studies, it’s best to make sure that university offers that degree program. If we goof on the minutiae, our readers might start to question other parts of the story.

So besides this wonderful thing called the Internet and our stacks of books, how do we ensure that we’re getting it right? Any suggestions? As for me, I might not be the most adventurous person out there, but I’m always game for a road trip.

The Tax Man Cometh, Writer’s Edition

ImageAs we scratch our heads to recall the difference between a 1098 and a 1099, the writing life adds a whole other layer of complexity to filing our taxes. We’ve slaved away, dreaming of the day we’d see our darling stories in print. And then the day comes. And with it, comes the taxes.

As a disclaimer, I’m a writer by trade—whether writing feature articles or romance novels. This article is intended to be food for thought. Definitely, definitely consult a tax professional before you take any steps tax-wise. I spoke with my tax-preparer about preparing for the days when I’m actually earning an income as a writer, and I thought I’d share some of what I learned with my fellow writers.

A few tax caveats for writers:

1.)    Quarterly taxes. In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, most writers are self-employed. And as if filing annually wasn’t stressful enough, you may be required to file quarterly. If you don’t, you could be stuck with penalties when you finally do file. According to the IRS, “As a self-employed individual, generally you are required to file an annual return and pay estimated tax quarterly.” Visit the IRS’s website for the self-employed to see where you fall and read the guidelines.

2.)    Hobby vs. business. The IRS is skeptical about people trying to pass off a hobby as a business. One of the criteria is that you must earn a profit three out of five years. So if you write off expenses for your writing career before you actually have an income stream, in a few years, your writing career could be relegated to the hobby category—at least, for tax purposes. To determine if your writing career currently qualifies as a business, click here.

3.)    Business expenses. Being a writer is an expensive business. Paying for trade publications, professional membership dues, conference registration and travel expenses, advertising expenses, or website design and maintenance could all legitimately be written off as business expenses, but in the event of an audit, be prepared to prove how it benefited your business. Keep careful track of your expenses in case you’re audited, and make sure to note how a given expense directly benefited your career. It’s a really complex process, so consulting a tax professional could definitely be to your advantage.

4.)    The home office pitfall. Most writers work from home, so it’s tempting to write off the expenses associated with a home office. But if your office isn’t used exclusively as an office for your writing, you might want to steer clear. Rooms that double as a guest room, living room, or dining space don’t count, in the eyes of the IRS.

I’m not yet ready to declare my writing a business for tax purposes, but I’d like to be prepared when I get there. For those of you who are published, what tips do you have for managing your taxes as a writer?

Looking Forward to Spring Cleaning…seriously.

Though February is speeding its way toward March, we just had our first significant snowfall this weekend in Southwest Virginia. And even though we’re currently living in a winter wonderland, I can’t help but have my sights set on one of the more interesting spring traditions in which so many of us participate: spring cleaning.

Though it lacks the nostalgic joy of dyeing eggs and the earthy satisfaction of sowing the first seeds of the season, in my household, we take spring cleaning seriously.

Well, I do. My husband mostly grunts and nods. Who would get excited about cleaning the ceiling fan with a pillowcase, pulling all of the shoes out of the closet, or lugging a box of old junk to Goodwill? Besides me. Anyone?

New Year ’s Day arrives after the flurry of the holidays, when the tree is still up, the gifts are still shiny and new, and the year is a clean slate. We arrive full of hope for the upcoming year, a fistful of goals in our hand and an ambitious resolution in our pocket. The first months of the year drag on, for many of us, full of gray days spent complaining about the weather and searching for our missing glove. Resolutions fall into a period of waxing and waning of purpose.

For me, the year really gets going in the spring. It’s the start of a year in a different sort of way, a beginning more in tune with the cycles of nature, of rebirth and growth and fertility. Spring cleaning can be a time to cleanse our surroundings, physically and spiritually. We can dust all of those places we always forget about, sort out that pile of papers accumulating on the corner of the desk, or sweep the remnants of the last fall leaves off the front porch.

In the delirium of cabin fever, thoughts of my spring cleaning frenzy are already swirling in my head.

Intellectual clutter…

Spring cleaning can be a time to finish or discard old projects. That scrapbook we started and then forgot? Should we finish it? Or is it possible that we went to the craft store, bought all the supplies, and came home full of enthusiasm, only to realize that we hate scrapbooking more than we hate scrubbing the toilet? The picture frame we fell in love with, but forgot to put a picture in and stick it on the mantel? In the spring, nature is in a frenzy of growth and chatter. The robin is building her nest in the holly tree. Why not clean our nests and start afresh?

And the emotional clutter…

Who isn’t notorious for filling their home with sentimental clutter? For years, I kept my high school graduation gown. Our school colors were green and gold, and, no surprise, the gentleman got to look dashing in hunter green while the ladies wore brighter-than-the-sun yellow, a color that looks flattering on no one. I hated that graduation gown, and yet for some reason, I held onto it. Finally, I had to acknowledge: I will never wear this again. I have photos of my graduation and lots of memories of high school. I don’t need that gown hanging in my closet, blazing out at me like a polyester hazmat suit.

Spring is a good time to go through the drawers, closets, bookshelves, and miscellaneous bins and get rid of the clutter that no longer serves us. Since I live in an apartment, I can’t keep every single gift everyone has ever given me. If it isn’t useful and we don’t love it, why keep it?

I have a hatbox in my closet full of mementos I don’t plan on parting with. The oddest of them is a Pokémon “finger skateboard” my youngest brother gave me. I was a teenager, and he was in fifth grade. We had nothing in common and didn’t get along well in that period of our lives, but one day, I happened to mention that I thought Pikachu was funny. My brother went to the mall with his friends and brought this mini-skateboard back for me. It makes me smile. So I keep it.🙂 But we don’t have to keep everything.

And, ugh, physical clutter…

I can hear my husband sighing, but I like to go from room to room and make a list of everything that needs to be done. Yes, there’s occasionally always a clipboard. Some rooms are easier than others. Our bedroom, for example, is usually the easiest room in the house. The living room is harder. The baskets next to the door fill up with random items, heavy foot traffic means the carpets need to be scrubbed, and my stack of catalogs needs to be recycled. Going through all of the papers in our offices is so scary that we tend to leave that task for last. I’m still looking for a better way to deal with paper clutter. I’ll let you know when one arrives.😛

Maybe we don’t finish everything on the list, but I get a sense of satisfaction in checking items off—even the small ones, like “clean off bottom shelf of coffee table” or “discard old textbooks.”

When we need a hard hat to enter our closets, it's spring-cleaning time.

“Out with the old, in with the new,” seems to apply better to January than to March, but as the season of rebirth heads our way, we can make room for growth in our old lives. Finishing an old short story or admitting we no longer care for it allows room for a new project. Cleaning out a door crammed with clothes that don’t fit makes it easier to find the ones that do. Clearing the physical clutter brings fresh air into the house as much as opening the window to the warm spring breeze.

I know maybe I go a little overboard, but how do you approach spring cleaning? What method works best? At the end of the process, do you feel rejuvenated and less stressed, or exhausted and more stressed?

A snow-covered ROW80 check-in

I’m writing to you from Southwest Virginia, where I’m currently trapped in a snow globe–I mean, uh, snowstorm. And not really trapped, since the weather has been so mild and thus, the ground is fairly warm. So, from the sort-of winter wonderland, here’s my check-in for the week.

Spent most of the week writing and combing through Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3 of Made of Shadows. My initial rewrite of the “meet cute” for Zoe and Blake posed some problems (i.e., messed up the following parts of the plot, which were actually working just fine). Thanks to some stewing today, I’ve located the problem. Then I’m off!

I’ve been reading some of the 43 Light Street books by Rebecca York. I saw her speak at a Virginia Romance Writers meeting last year and learned a lot from her talk. Her books are really addictive and her plots are very character driven, so I’ve been reading some of her work (currently, Guarding Grace) to study how she allows the suspense element of the plot to drive the story forward, while providing plenty of space for romance. This approach actually helped me find the flaw in my meet-cute scene because I realized that’s not how a given character would react to a particular development.

My ROW80 goals:

  • I revised Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3. I revised Chapter 2 a few times and am proud to have worked the kinks out before I move forward.
  • I’m spending more time on Twitter, taking breaks in the morning at work and before I write in the afternoon, but I haven’t carved out a space for Facebook check-ins yet.
  • Read a lot of awesome blogs this week, but always on the run, so I haven’t started doing regular “mash-ups of awesomeness” yet.
  • Need to work on bio critiques for my Team WANA1011 peeps and immerse myself in a few manuscripts I need to critique as well.

I am still looking for a place of balance, where day job, writing, social media, household management, relationships, social life, exercise/nutrition can all coexist. Looking at that list, LOL, it doesn’t look good. By year’s end, I plan to have not one but two manuscripts ready for query. I will get there. Whether I’ll find a sense of calm within the chaos…well, that remains to be seen.🙂

Since tomorrow is President’s Day, I’m hoping to spend the day at home, doing a few random things for day job and plunging into Made of Shadows. We’ll see if my boss forces me to clean the snow off my car tomorrow.

How are your writing goals going?

Looking Forward in 2012 and New ROW80 Goals


“I have desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world.” –W.B. Yeats

In light of some of the developments in so far in 2012, I’ve decided to revise my goals for the first round of ROW80. After writing my first set, I realized that I had a lot of goals that I hadn’t actually written down. And, since I’ll be attending the Virginia Romance Writers’ For the Love of Writing Conference in May, I also need to set Pierce My Heart aside for a while so I have enough time to polish up Made of Shadows for the conference.

Halfway through February, I’m not sure how I’m doing on my New Year’s resolution. My resolution isn’t so much a personal challenge as it is a necessary lifestyle change. I realize I’ve been letting go of the some elements of life that are core to who I am: my artistic, creative side and my spiritual side. My stories come from a deep well within, and it’s hard to hear them when I listen to the voices that insist I’m better off using my creative energies in other ways. I like public relations writing, but I need to write stories.

Storytelling is a lot like gardening. You plant seeds, nurture them throughout the year, and have faith that your hard work will produce a bountiful harvest. That harvest won’t just provide sustenance for the winter. It will also provide seeds for next spring. I’ve yet to find another line of work that provides me with that fulfillment.

There’s a post-it stuck to my refrigerator bearing this quote from Buddha:

“Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, give yourself to it.”

Whatever our art, whether it’s cooking, gardening, programming, nursing, writing, or painting, each of us has a dharma, a path in life that fits us best. We become the best possible versions of ourselves when we find and live our dharma. What have you, with all of your heart, given yourself to? What bold steps have you taken in life to achieve your dreams?

The worst thing we can do is to do things in life because we think they are what others expect of us or because we want to prove something. I realized late last year that I’d spent too much time trying to prove something to myself. I’d moved away from what really mattered. 2012 is all about giving myself to my life’s work: my stories.

My goal for 2012 is to complete query-ready drafts of my two WIPs, Made of Shadows and Pierce My Heart. I’d also like to draft another story as well, but if by December, I’m querying those two pieces, I’ll be satisfied with that. I’d also like to continue building my author platform.

In light of those developments and revelations, here are my new ROW80 goals:

1.)    Revise three chapters of Made of Shadows per week, so this manuscript is ready to go for the writing conference in May.

2.)    Blog at least twice per week. (I might up this to three times per week later in the year.)

3.)    Stop by Twitter once or twice per day, excluding Sundays.

4.)    Check in on Facebook once a day, except Sundays.

5.)    Read three blog posts per day, except Sundays.

6.)    Complete two bio critiques per week for my fellow Team WANA1011 members.

Well, here it goes. How are everyone else’s writing goals coming along?

Adventures in Animal Fostering

A few years ago, after making friends with some fellow animal-lovers at the dog park, I decided to get back into animal rescue. It was something I had done during college, but fallen out of once I moved from PA to Virginia. Animal fostering—temporarily caring for rescued animals until they’re placed in a new home—sounded like a great fit for me.

I filled out my application, and it didn’t take long to get the first call. This was the county shelter, one that was low on resources and short on space. Fostering an animal meant one more empty cage and one more life saved.


The question people most frequently ask is whether it’s hard to give them up. Sometimes, yeah. My first foster was this lovely hound-mix named Jade. She was barely eight weeks old and newly separated from her mother. I couldn’t even leave the room without Jade whining and howling until I returned. I didn’t even try crate training the first night. She and I slept on the sofa together, her curled up against my chest. Unfortunately, she had fleas, which I couldn’t treat because of her age. We had to wait until her vet visit the next morning. That was one snuggly, but itchy, night.

The thing is that you go into it knowing you have to let go. It’s extremely rewarding to be there when a dog finds a new forever family that fits them perfectly. I still care about all of the animals I’ve fostered. The apartment is quieter when they’re gone. I miss them. But I also know I’ve done the right thing. I brought together the right people with the right animal, and that’s a good feeling.

But there’s a part that’s harder and far less sentimental. Like raising a child, there are parts of caring for animals that aren’t all snuggles and squeaker toys. Most animals that end up in shelters are there because they had owners who didn’t do the right thing. Didn’t spay or neuter their pet. Didn’t properly train them. Didn’t properly socialize them. True, some animals are surrendered because their owner becomes sick or passes away. But most end up there because someone didn’t care enough or know enough to  treat their pet properly.

If you’re going to foster, you have to realize that it’s hard. Not just emotionally, but mentally. You get the animal when they’re in a terrible place. They’ve been taken away from the only life they’ve ever known and brought to a shelter (which, unfortunately, is an incredibly stressful environment). It’s literally a traumatic event. Some animals are highly adaptable. Others end up absolutely terrified, and they’re pretty much all confused. Helping them through that transition is difficult. Getting them into a home that offers a safe and comforting environment can make a world of


difference, especially for a puppy like Jade. Or this guy, Buddy, who was almost euthanized because he hid in the back of his cage for weeks, growling.

We soon learned that Buddy was afraid of men. Though my husband is a gentle, soft-spoken guy, when Buddy’s tennis ball rolled next to my husband’s feet, Buddy cowered and walked away, too afraid to claim a ball with which only moments before he’d been playing gleefully. It took a lot of coaxing to get Buddy comfortable with men. Today, he has a loving home.

Shelter dogs have it rough. Many have separation anxiety. Many haven’t been housebroken or taught basic commands. They need a lot of love and a lot of patience.

With fostering, the animal comes into your home during a stressful transition. What the foster family provides is a bridge to a new, permanent home. Adopting a new animal is stressful, but the stress passes, and the family settles in. Though I enjoyed fostering, it requires a certain tolerance for chaos because you’re always working with animals who are in transition.


Some animals stay for a few days. Others, like this girl, Honeybee, are long-term fosters. Honeybee, if you can’t tell from her photo, was a total clown. She was sweet and playful and loved to give kisses. My nieces almost cried when this girl was finally adopted.

But Honeybee had been returned to the shelter twice. When she came home with us, we saw why: She chased the cat, and, when I corrected her, stared at me like I was crazy. She’d never walked on a leash. She wasn’t house-trained and, because she was more than a year old, had difficulty getting the concept down. Honeybee wasn’t ready to be adopted. She stayed with us for several months, during which she learned not to chase the cats (usually…), to obey basic commands, and to walk on a leash. I finally managed to housetrain her through what has to be the most uncomfortable method for everyone involved: I put her on a leash indoors, which I kept around my ankle (I wouldn’t try this with a Great Dane). We also had a couple trips to the vet because she had a tendency to eat otherwise inedible things—one time, her collar. But I also remember the moment everything clicked into place for her. We were preparing for our nightly walk, and she sat there, prim and proper, as I put her leash on. She’d gone a couple days without an accident. Just like that, she was ready.

I have great memories of the dogs I’ve fostered. Though I’ve agreed, at my husband’s request, not to foster until we move into our own place with a backyard and hardwood or laminate floors, I look forward to getting involved with animal fostering once more.

Animal fostering isn’t for everyone. Once you get a dog completely trained, they go off to a new life with their forever family. Soon, there’s another dog, with its own set of challenges, in need of your help. Helping that dog is a great feeling.

But be prepared to douse that wet spot on the carpet with Nature’s Miracle (the name fits) or crate-trained an eight-week old puppy (it’s hell on your conscience). It takes a big heart to open up your home to an animal in need. You’ll gain a patience you never knew you could muster–and be on a first-name basis with the local professional carpet cleaners.

Sunday ROW80 Check-in

A brief post on this week’s ROW80 goals:

  • Wrote 2,352 words, slightly short of my 3,000-word goal for Pierce My Heart.
  • Blogged Wednesday and Sunday.

I’m preparing to start revisions to Made of Shadows so that manuscript is ready for the Virginia Romance Writers conference in May, so I might need to update my Pierce My Heart word count to accommodate those revisions.

How are everyone else’s writing goals coming along?

Stranger than Fiction: Imbolc and lessons from winter

Today the Wiccan community celebrates Imbolc. Though we’re still in the midst of winter, with the potential for Nor’easters and cold days ahead, and though Punxsutawney Phil hasn’t emerged to peek at his shadow yet, we can still catch a glimpse of spring.

The cold days teach us to be grateful for the warm ones. The long nights teach us to be grateful for the sunrise. The days are steadily getting longer, preparing us once more for the equinox, with its equal day and equal night.

I’ve had one of those stranger-than-fiction weeks, a series of strange occurrences that I never could’ve imagined. As a journalist, I also call these moments “man bites dog.” (Because, when a dog bites a man, that is not news. But when a man bites a dog, that is news.)

Failure can be the foundation for success, and pain, the foundation for growth. In fact, as most of us know, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. As Jane Hirschfield writes in her poem “Waking the Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep”:

“But with the sentence: ‘Use your failures for paper.’ Meaning, I understood, the backs of failed poems, but also my life.”

Sometimes the winter seems too cold to bear. One lesson I’ve learned from the past week is that, as we walk through our days, we are often blind to how much pain the people around us are holding in. No one can carry that pain for them. No one can bear the winter’s cold but the person outside in the snow. But the flowers emerge following the spring’s thaw. Hirschfield goes on to say:

“I do not know where the words come from, what the millstones, where the turning may lead. I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples, putting pages of ruined paper into a basket, pulling them out again.”

If we didn’t know winter, would we celebrate the spring? The best we can do with our failures is to learn from them, to build a better version of ourselves, to work toward recognizing that, despite pain, loss, and mistakes, we are still whole. I don’t believe we need to become whole. I think we need to realize we already are. The best we can do with the bad weather is to understand its place in the cycle of things and to smile when the sun rises. May your Imbolc hint of spring days to come, a reminder of light, healing, and the cycle of the seasons.

Life is a crazy journey. And you can quote me on that.

The perfect brand is like the perfect pair of jeans.

Last night I came across a wonderful blog post about brand. Can you, the author challenged, sum up your brand in one word? (Check it out here.)

Can we? When I come across people who are skeptical about brand, I tell them that brand isn’t the entire you; it’s a gateway to you and your work. And I don’t care if you say you loathe brand, if you refuse to fit the mold or narrow yourself into a brand. You still have one. You might as well own it.

Brand for authors can be a difficult notion because we’re creative-types, artists, and, often, nonconformists. At one point, I might have been skeptical, too, except that my path as a writer led me to a gig in public relations. Through that job, I met a wonderful group of people—fiercely creative folks who are passionate about their roles in the promotion of our university—and that part-time gig was my gateway drug to brand.

The thing about brands is that they are alive, shifting, and dynamic. Authentic brands feel alive; they writhe with passion and buzz with electricity. Just like us. At our university, we really do live our brand. And no one has to tell anyone to do it. Our brand is not a contrivance, an artifice, or a sales gimmick. It emerges naturally throughout the course of the day, because as a community, it’s who we are.

Like a pair of jeans, your brand should fit like a glove and feel perfectly comfortable.

I insist that a good brand is one that fits like the perfect pair of jeans: snug and comfy. But it’s not so much that we feel comfortable. It’s that we feel confident. We find our stride because it’s just the right fit. Trying to find that “one word” is a great exercise in identifying our brands.

Since we’re writers, I’m going to pull from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” for an example. Kundera postulates that it’s the things that give our lives weight that make them meaningful. If we strip away those things, life becomes, he suggests, unbearably light. Each of our lives, as individuals and writers, has moments to which we attribute a great deal of meaning: the moment we knew we loved writing, the moment we knew we had to be a writer and damn anyone or anything that stood in our way, the moment we finished our first story. And often times, a theme runs through the milestones of our lives, our stories, and our writing journeys. The moments of our lives shape who we are, personally and creatively.

My word? Soulful. I want to write books with heart, with power, with soul. I believe life and art are a search for meaning. Sometimes I get pissed off at anything that stands in the way of my search for meaning and art. Life means something; art is the search for meaning. And I’m someone with a lot of faith, even if I don’t always know in what.

My blog in many ways is still searching for its shape, its meaning. I hope it helps people, and I’m still finding a way for it to do that. And brand is a part of all that, a taste of who we are, a way to help others understand what we’re all about. Yes, we’re complicated. Much as I enjoy the search for meaning in life, I also enjoy snarky comments, geeky jokes, and the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes. But yes, soulful. The word fits. Life can be hard, lonely, scary, and unfair. It can also be funny, crazy, wonderful, and amazing. I’m all about the journey.

Now, I want to know your word. What word fits you like a comfy pair of jeans? If you were to sum up your brand in one word, what would it be, and why?

A note about an upcoming conference:

In May, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Your Passion is Your Brand” at the first annual For the Love of Writing Conference, hosted by the Virginia Romance Writers, a wonderful group of fellow writers—some established and bestselling, others, like me, new to the biz—who have helped me find direction in the industry. It’s shaping up to be a great conference, so if you’re a romance writer, I hope you’ll attend. I’m also excited to share my insights into brand, to help fellow authors feel their way out. For many of us, brand is this new, scary thing. For some writers, it feels contrived. My workshop breaks the idea of brand into steps, helping authors create a personalized brand built on their strengths—one that feels comfortable and authentic. If you’re interested in gathering with a great, enthusiastic, and welcoming group of writers for a writing conference at the beach, here’s the link.

Wednesday ROW80 check-in

A short post today. I’ve written 1,302 words so far this week. I’m not blogging in-depth tonight because I’m recovering from a migraine. Hopefully I’ll have a more fun and exciting post for everyone on Friday!

How are your writing goals coming along this week?

And, so I don’t leave anyone empty-handed, a quote:

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” –Richard Wright